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UK 'Fake Sheikh' Reporter Charged with Conspiracy

  • Reuters

FILE - Singer Tulisa Contostavlos leaves Southwark Crown Court, central London, April 22, 2014.

FILE - Singer Tulisa Contostavlos leaves Southwark Crown Court, central London, April 22, 2014.

Mazher Mahmood, a British journalist whose undercover work posing as a "fake sheikh" led to a number of high-profile criminal court cases, was charged on Tuesday with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Mahmood, well-known for revealing wrongdoing amongst politicians, TV and film stars and even royalty, was suspended by Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper in July last year after the collapse of a celebrity trial in which he was a main witness.

The journalist had given evidence in the drugs trial of Tulisa Contostavlos, a former judge on the British version of the X Factor TV talent show.

She had denied being involved in the supply of drugs to Mahmood while he posed as a film producer, but her trial collapsed with the judge saying he suspected the reporter had lied to the court.

Nick Vamos, deputy head of Special Crime at Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it was in the public interest to charge Mahmood and another man, Alan Smith.

"This decision comes after it was alleged that Mr. Smith agreed with Mr. Mahmood to change his statement to police as part of a trial in July 2014, and that Mr. Mahmood then misled the court," Vamos said.

Mahmood, who will appear at London's Westminster Magistrates court on Oct. 30, said he denied the charge.

"I will vigorously contest it at court," he said in a statement. "In the meantime, I have nothing further to say."

Mahmood previously worked for Murdoch's News of the World tabloid, which the media mogul was forced to shut in 2011 when it was disclosed journalists had hacked voicemails on mobile phones of thousands of people, including that belonging to a murdered schoolgirl, to find exclusive stories.

That led to the jailing of a number of senior staff from the paper including its former editor Andy Coulson.

Rebekah Brooks, who returned this month to run Murdoch's British newspaper arm News UK after a four-year hiatus following the hacking scandal, was acquitted of involvement after a high-profile trial.

She often cited Mahmood's work during her defense as examples of good investigative journalism.

Mahmood carried out the inquiry which led to the 2011 conviction of three Pakistani cricketers for taking bribes to fix incidents in a match against England.

In his most famous exclusive in 2001, he posed as an Arab sheikh to dupe Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who is married to Queen Elizabeth's youngest son Prince Edward, into making indiscreet comments about other members of the royal family and senior politicians.

News UK said it noted the decision to prosecute Mahmood and would await the outcome of the criminal trial.

"He remains suspended from The Sun," a spokeswoman said.